Education is learning that you didn’t even know what you didn’t know.
– Daniel J. Boorstin
Week Four was rough. But I’ve never known an adventure to be easy. Let’s review the goal of this site – we are all somewhere in a spectrum as we transform learning from teacher-centered to student-centered classrooms. Does simply surviving count? Let’s find out.
I spent the whole weekend preparing for Week Five. I called every parent in my first period science class to go over a plan of action to prevent disruptions. Cleaned my classroom and made more student areas including the word wall, cell phone basket, and group supply baskets. Made this video to do a rules refresher. I made slime to prepare for next week’s lesson plans for states of matter (and it was fun to make with my niece). Oh, and I emailed a few scientists from NASA to ask for classroom visits somewhere in October. As for me, I watched Big Hero 6 for the first time (guess what I’ll be using in class?), learned how to make tortellini, and hiked Sugarloaf Mountain in the newly changing leaves and it was beautiful.
Resources in order of this SPECTRUM Acrostic
More density. Really? We spent the entire week on physical properties of matter using simulations. Given the resources schedule for our science team, simulations on Chromebooks were the bulk of the week, from density simulations to rather dull ‘games’ on solubility.
In the middle of simulations, I broke it up with a demo using a borax solution to make crystals. Ideally this would have been a one cup per student lab, and I’ll forever be haunted by not giving them that opportunity. These are my excuses – we were out of time and materials, two critical limitations to bringing in quality hands-on science. Nevertheless, we have 5 cups with pipe cleaners and borax crystalizing over the weekend. In retrospect, I wish I would have given them a control and made sure we documented our variables, created predictions/hypotheses, etc. I’m finding more and more that the inability to adapt worksheets to consistently utilize scientific investigations is tough. It seems like every journal sheet is missing something (the curriculum writer in me is constantly tugging at the teacher in me), and I need to do a better job rounding out their experiences to include the whole picture of science. Speaking of, it’s difficult to find good examples of why understanding solubility is important, other than making Koolaid or iced tea with sugar. I found a few NASA and USGS links, and a cool vocabulary music video, but nothing about the relevance of why it’s important to understand solubility (JUST SOLUBILITY), at least in the eyes of an 11-year old, and how it applies to our natural/chemical world. Any other suggestions?
I received an informal evaluation from the assistant principal who applauded my class’ report building, positive behavioral supports, and general inquiry questioning. She added that I needed to expand on inquiry questioning in order to begin modeling argumentation and student discourse. Of course! We all aspire to get to this point, and the time is now. That’s why I started this project to begin with! Maybe we get bogged down by management and covering material, I see now I’m guilty of it 🙂 Remember the collaborative learning strategies I was so excited to begin? Here we go! I like this article about creating rich discourse in class. I did get points for differentiating instruction in my last period class, which allows me to rehearse materials for the following day’s first period class. My goal is to differentiate all classes, of course. This is just my first steps as a race to get and stay caught up.
Remember, I’m a curriculum person who is teaching right now, and I also work with observations and protocols to help foster STEM through student-centered classrooms. I can’t let the daily tasks of teaching interrupt my big focus. Yet, now I wonder… maybe the goal of quality curriculum and support is to clear the path for the teacher to do their immeasurable work. Something to consider. The curriculum in me found this incredible resource for aligning material to NGSS, Tools and Processes, by the American Natural History Museum and BSCS very helpful.
None this week. Sorry. Should I be concerned?
The beginning of the week was a full day dedicated to Junior Achievement and working with financial literacy volunteers. Fascinating! What a great day! However, I made a big observation: I had the same group of students all day, not a rotation in the departmentalized schedule. I take back everything I have ever said about departmentalized schedules being a little too hectic for sixth graders. It was way too much for them (and me) to be in one room with the same people all day. I spent the whole day managing a very full class with no changes other than activities. I missed seeing different students every hour, constantly shifting gears… I wonder if block schedules would be better for this crucial grade?
A large portion of this week was lost (or gained?) to classroom management. I underestimated the transition to middle school from students that used to be in elementary school and are now wayyyy over the honeymoon phase of entering sixth grade. Students yelling, throwing things, staging coups, rebelling, acting out, and worse, unwieldy bullying. It took me most of the week to get a handle on what needed to be done, and I’ve committed to calling every parent in one particular class. I found this resource along the way, as well. I’ve built rewards and consequences systems, mainly around whole class rewards, such as watching cool science videos like Sports Science. I got some advice when I first started this teaching gig, which was this: keep it in the team. That may be, but given what happened this week, the team was the entire school.
A friend of mine and I were having tea in the mountains of Colorado this summer. Something caught fire on her stove and she ran to extinguish the flame with ease. I sat there in denial that a flame was even occurring. When she found out I was teaching, she cautioned me that teachers need to run to put out the flame, not freeze. This week, two students were bullied or otherwise injured in front of me and I ran to them. In fact, there’s been more appropriate physical contact this week than I’ve ever allowed myself in the classroom. I’m a bit of a germaphobe and even a high-five makes me want to wash my hands… The simple and obvious pat on the back and high fives made a big difference this week! All of these body gestures have to be non-threatening, purposeful, and of course appropriate; it comes with the job. When I saw students in dire situations this week, I ran to the fire. That made me feel like I was on the right track.
I lied. I have assigned one more type of homework. Vocabulary practice. I passed out a sheet of terms and gave one instruction only. “Make a game.” I added to the obvious confused gazes I got in return, “I don’t care if you cut these terms and definitions in half and make a game of concentration, or a computer game, or whatever. Let me see what you got.” Knowing that homework is just one of those things that doesn’t really happen anymore, I figure I can only assign things that are fun and provide practice.
Here’s just some of what I got in return.
I think I’ll continue this practice. It’s independent, voluntary (for now), creative, and embeds vocabulary from science through a personal experience. It’s not connected to the scientific phenomena itself, per say, but it at least keeps their mind on the terms during non-instruction times. Next I’ll make sure the assignment includes listing an example of how they see the term applied in the real world, to be more in line with research and strategies by Marzano.
I wish I could undo the borax crystal demo and make sure every student group could make their own crystals in the borax solution. We have supplies now, and I will commit to making every lab one per student/group or not at all (to the very best of my ability). Sometimes cutting a corner to save time, and then realizing that they didn’t get the benefit of the hands-on experience, is just not worth it. Next week is states of matter with slime, so, yeah, that will definitely be one per group.
Other than the sims this week, and my own flipped videos for instruction, there wasn’t much other media this week. Still addicted to my wildlife cams, which I’m always showing during down times. Somehow, I discovered a series of beautiful and appropriate deep sea wildlife documentaries by Grand Theft Auto that I can use as a reward if needed (who knew?). As always, any and all suggestions for more media to fit in to the packed days, please send along!
Here is a personal reflection of my own and others’ teaching and how we are Setting the Stage for Learning using best practices in STEM education.
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